Companies these days use crowdsourcing for everything from striking gold to marketing facial moisturizer. Now a new startup, Transparency Life Sciences, hopes to harness that collaborative power to make clinical trials more effective and efficient by asking the opinions of doctors as well as patients and their families. The company, launched last month and based in New York, is the latest in a string of so-called ‘open innovation’ drug development initiatives. But until now most of these efforts have only crowdsourced from a limited group: researchers.
Back in 2009 Indiana-based Eli Lilly launched its Open Innovation Drug Discovery program, an online platform for researchers to submit small molecules for drug screening. “The goal of this kind of program is to attract researchers with new molecules and ideas in an unbiased way,” says Alan Palkowitz, vice president of discovery chemistry research and technologies at Eli Lilly.
Other big pharmaceutical companies have also established a handful of open innovation platforms for preclinical drug development. New York-based Pfizer has been building partnerships with institutions through its Centers for Therapeutic Innovation program since 2010, and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline funds the non-profit open innovation organization Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation. Most recently, in October, the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization partnered with seven major drug companies in an intellectual property sharing consortium targeting neglected tropical diseases.
Transparency Life Sciences, meanwhile, is taking a different approach to open innovation. “Our ‘open’ is open to everybody—everybody can contribute, not just people we invite to the table,” says founder and chief executive Tomasz Sablinski. The company hopes to tap into the large and vocal online communities around chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel diseases to design clinical trials that are resource-effective and patient-centered. For example, with the help of patients and doctors the company hopes to design chronic disease trials that require fewer clinic visits for people enrolled.
Unlike non-profit organizations such as Seattle’s Sage Bionetworks and Australia’s Cambia, which act as third parties and seek to pool data from governments, industry, patients and clinicians, Transparency Life Sciences thinks its business model for designing and administering clinical trials will allow the company to compete with the clinical research organizations that currently run trials. Sablinski recognizes that the first hurdle will be attracting people to the company’s site, but, he says, “once we have crowd engaged, it’s going to be hard to beat us.”